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Exploring Our Backyard: Discovering the Tonopah Historic Mining Park

Tonopah Historic Mining Park (Jenna Holland, NSN)

Welcome to a special Travel Nevada edition of Exploring Our Backyard presented by United Nissan. Over the next few weeks, we'll take you along our journey on the Free Range Art Highway from Reno to Las Vegas. It's one of the 10 road trips you can explore with Travel Nevada.

Our trip on the Free Range Art Highway started at Mackay Stadium as we tied our adventure into our drive to the Nevada and UNLV football game at Allegiant Stadium. (Nevada defeated UNLV, 37-19, to win the Fremont Cannon.)

We took Interstate 80 to Highway 50 and passed through the Oasis of Nevada, Fallon, a town of nearly 8,500 people and home to the Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe Festival at the end of the summer. We continued on Highway 95 for another 60 miles as we made our way to Walker Lake and Hawthorne before our first stop of the day, Mina, a small town of roughly 100 people but home to S'Socorro's Burger Hut.

You can't miss the bright red building as you're driving through town. Owner Socorro Streight's mantra is, “Fast Food’s Not Good, Good Food Is Not Fast." After trying one of her burgers, that statement holds true, as our burgers were far from a fast food burger. We had a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate milkshake, and it was delightful. I would definitely make a stop again as I'm driving through town.

We continued 70 miles south to our final destination of the day, Tonopah, home to a rich history of mining and the World Famous Clown Motel.

First, we checked out the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. Park host, Jeff Martin, was our tour guide for the afternoon. He took us through the 113-acre property to share some of the history behind the historic mining site, dating back to the early 1900s. The Tonopah Historic Mining Park sits on Jim and Belle Butler's original discovery site, which later turned into the Tonopah Mining Company.

"Everybody always talks about the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, but what they tend to forget is the significance of the Tonopah discovery, and that was in May of 1900," Martin said. "The Butler Discovery helped bring back jobs to Nevada. People came back to Tonopah to work and it helped fuel the economy and got it going again. Our claim to fame is we're the silver that saved the state."

"There are 8-10 large, open stopes and they were just veins of silver that outcropped right on the property," said Martin. "The first guys in that were known as the leasers, just started breaking rock right on the surface and chasing these big veins right down into the earth. So you can explore and stand above them, go into a tunnel into the side of them, so it's pretty interesting."

This was one of my favorite parts of mining park. I loved taking a look at the untouched silver that is still on the ground from years ago. Growing up in Nevada, I remember learning about our state's history during school, but it was nice to refresh my memory and see such a historic significance to Nevada in person.

Martin said some of the most unique artifacts he's found on the property are old miners hats, pipes, candles, tools and bottles, along with silver and gold that are still laying on the property from more than 100 years ago. We had the chance to look at some of the rustic tools and machinery the miners used on the property. We even checked out one of the tents they lived in.

"If you have 45 minutes, or if you have all day you can find some pretty neat areas to explore," Martin said. "My goal for people when they leave the mining park, especially people who live in Nevada, is to actually step back and say, 'Who the hell knew that this was here and this is as significant as it was?'"

Over the next year and a half, Martin's goal is to have many more buildings on the property open to the public, with artifacts they have yet to share with the public, but don't worry, there's plenty to explore in a day's worth of time at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. You may even get lost, there's plenty to discover.

"It is a small town, with a lot of history," Martin said." Our plan right now is we want people to not just make Tonopah a gas and bathroom break. We want to make it a, 'Hey, come stay the night.' You look at the Mizpah Hotel and what the Cline family has done with that and now they're working on the Belvada, the five-story across the street, that's to open soon. These are two of the first five-story buildings in the state of Nevada, so just in this small, square area we have just some significant, amazing stuff."

Next time, on Travel Nevada's Exploring Our Backyard, we'll continue our trip in Tonopah, as we take a look at the World Famous Clown Motel before making our final trek to Las Vegas.

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